Here’s some helpful tips to keep yourself safe and well during the COVID-19 pandemic, but still connected to those close to you.
Families are scrambling to keep seniors safe as the spread of the novel coronavirus spares no corner of the global economy and takes particularly lethal aim at vulnerable communities like retirement developments and assisted-living facilities.
There are now temporary restrictions to visitors to many developments, as well as the cancellation of group activities, including communal dining. The restrictions, as well as warnings for older people to stay put to reduce their risk, is creating unprecedented challenges for the retirement and care industry—not to mention major anxiety for families.
Stay Put or Leave?
With stories of family unable to see loved ones inside nursing homes and many other types of retirement communities as they quarantine, families are reassessing options.
Out of the senior living options—running the gamut from full-care nursing homes to assisted-living facilities to continuing-care retirement communities—nursing homes are the most strictly regulated by the government and are doubling down on best practices.
That doesn’t mean people should encourage their parents to leave any type of facility and come home with them. Aside from the infection risk in the new home, it can be particularly difficult to replicate the type of care someone may have been getting, especially in a nursing home. That would typically require hiring skilled nursing help—a difficult and expensive task at the best of times and much more so in the middle of a pandemic.
Often seniors in continuing-care communities and assisted-living facilities dine together, but this might be a good time to encourage people to cook in their own apartments or rooms, if an option, or have meals delivered—a service many restaurants are offering.
Exceptions to Restrictions
Nursing homes are prohibiting visitors but there is an exception for end-of-life situations and palliative care.
Social isolation is a major risk for Brits, even in good times, let alone in the age of social distancing and self-quarantines. While community dining and similar communal gatherings are restricted, elder-care experts stress the need for families to stay connected with their seniors.
For some, using email and communications apps like FaceTime or WhatsApp is a good way to stay engaged. For others, virtual assistants like Alexa, used as an intercom, can allow seniors play crosswords together or watch a television program simultaneously. There is also the value of old-fashioned versions of communications like long phone calls and notes.
For those who can’t verbally communicate or may have cognitive decline, experts recommend family members contact the care facility to set up a call during which one might play some music for a senior or read a book to them.
The UK has a known shortage of paid care workers, and the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated that. A good question to ask senior care facilities is if they have a Plan B and Plan C to adequately staff up. Some places are cross-training staff so that they can fill in for colleagues. The industry is also looking at pulling in retired staff, much like hospitals are doing with nurses and doctors.
For those assisted living who have a paid caregiver come in to help them through the day, it is recommended that checks are first made on whether outside help is still allowed into the community given visitation restrictions. And if seniors are living at home and need a caregiver, some are considering live-in help to reduce the risk of infection when the caregiver goes home.
Caring for Care Workers
Giving hazard pay or arranging for child care for carers with children whose schools are closed are two ways to make it easier for this group to keep working during the pandemic.
Are They Prepared?
The widespread shortage in masks, gloves, and other personal protective gear that hospitals and doctors are struggling with is also a concern for retirement and senior-care facilities. Check in with the facility and see how they are doing on supplies and seek donations from the community if they are running short.
For those trying to assess how prepared a facility is, senior-care experts recommend checking communications practices. That’s not just about communicating when there is an emergency, but also communicating the likely adjustments that need to be made in plan of care, programming, and even the way people are fed.
Given the new restrictions on visitors at many places, some experts recommend asking if there are devices that can be used to Skype or FaceTime, how those are cleaned—and if a family member can provide a device.
Staying Out of the Hospital
As cities try to free up hospital beds and personnel, it’s a good time to stay clear of the hospital for minor concerns.
Also important: preventing falls. Some ways to do that include making sure a cane or walker is used if needed, walking with a caregiver nearby when balance is a concern, or using new types of sensors that can alert someone if a person falls.
Who to Consult?
For those who are aging in place or in a senior community without much management, knowing where to go for assistance—such as which hospital has the coronavirus test or is best-equipped for specific health emergencies—is crucial knowledge. Elder-care experts recommend checking in with larger senior-care facility operators that tend to have medical directors in touch with the local hospitals.
Another option: Checking in with an aging life professional—also known as a geriatric care manager—that can help find services and is usually also well-versed in local resources.